Benedict’s legacy: charity and truth
Fr Shenan Boquet writes of Pope Benedict’s lasting legacy of charity and truth . . .
As the world waited eight years ago for the white smoke to emerge from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, millions wondered not only who the next pope would be, but also how anyone could possibly follow the man who was already being referred to as “John Paul the Great.”
Of course, we now know the answer. The shy and brilliant theologian, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, was selected by his brother cardinals, and his papacy was one of persistent and clear teaching about the love of Jesus Christ. The man we now refer to as Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, followed his unfollowable predecessor, not by trying to be like him, but by placing his own substantial gifts at the disposal of the Holy Spirit.
Though we cannot possibly consider all of Benedict’s work here, we can safely say that his three encyclicals alone have given us a wealth of material for reflection, effectively bringing the eternal truths, of which the Catholic Church is steward, into dialogue with the challenges of today’s culture.
In the last of these encyclicals, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), Benedict addresses the charitable efforts of the Church. First a little background: It is well known that billions of dollars go from the world’s wealthier nations to impoverished nations. Often in the form of loans or material aid, donations go through governments, through large multinational organizations such as the United Nations, and through charitable foundations and organizations.
Over the last few decades, some worthy projects have become progressively corrupted with the false premise that poverty would be alleviated if the poor would stop having children. This insidious lie has become practically impervious to contrary evidence, such as the fact that wealthier nations are quite often more densely populated than the poorest nations — and that wealthy nations became wealthy while they had higher fertility rates, and thus larger families.
Still, the belief that children are an obstacle to progress is now as much a shared assumption of international development efforts as is the need for improved education and infrastructure. Human Life International’s pro-life missionaries know that this destructive attitude is particularly difficult to overcome. Indeed, billions that could be spent on worthy projects go instead to legalize abortion in nations that do not want it and to promote contraception as a means of improving “reproductive health.”
Catholic charitable organizations, Benedict writes in Caritas in Veritate, have a particular responsibility to have a radically different approach to poverty. The good work done by these groups must be done in a spirit of true evangelization, unabashedly bringing the love of Jesus Christ — caritas — to the poor. We provide material assistance in an efficient manner with high professional standards, but we must see in our brother and sister who live in poverty not a problem to be solved, but the greatest resource for their own turn toward prosperity.
Catholics cannot pursue this essential work in the same way as secular organizations, but rather with the knowledge that every person is destined for heaven — and as such has needs beyond mere material assistance. When we recognize this truth, we see in the poor our shared dignity as we are made in the image of our Creator. This is what Benedict means when he calls for “the development of every person and of the whole person.”
Clearly, this is not the prevailing ethos of the international development community. For this reason, Catholic organizations must be very careful about how they pursue their missions. Faith formation of staff must be a high priority.
As Benedict says in Caritas in Veritate, “Openness to life is at the center of true development” (# 28). It’s sad that such common sense would be considered revolutionary, but in the field of international development, it most surely is. Benedict has called for a renewal of the Church’s charitable work, which is as much a part of her mission, he says, as is the liturgy and the sacraments. To ensure that he was not misunderstood, Benedict promulgated new articles within Canon Law this past December, expressly empowering bishops to ensure the faithfulness of the Church’s charitable organizations to the entirety of her social and moral doctrine.
The great work done by Catholic charitable organizations must continue. It can be a tremendous vehicle for sharing both the Gospel and the truths of the Church’s social and moral doctrine. For his eloquent and persistent articulation of these truths in Caritas in Veritate — and in dozens of other statements and documents — we can be very grateful for Benedict’s pontificate. And we pray that Pope Francis will continue to pursue this urgent effort in charity and in truth.
FR. SHENAN BOQUET is the president of Human Life International.